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Lagana, Vainieri Huttle, Zwicker, Benson, Sumter & McKnight Bill to Support STEM Entrepreneurs Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joseph Lagana, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Andrew Zwicker, Dan Benson, Shavonda Sumter and Angela McKnight to help strengthen New Jersey’s economy by encouraging entrepreneurship in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) was released Thursday by an Assembly committee.

“In order to succeed in a 21st-century global economy we must cultivate cutting-edge innovation in health care, engineering, information technology and various other STEM-related areas,” said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This legislation is about making sure that our state’s best and brightest have access to the resources they need to build on the ideas that will move us forward.”

“The STEM fields represent the future of New Jersey,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Supporting men and women in these in-demand sectors will empower them not only to advance their own careers but also to create high-paying jobs and strengthen our economy.”

Positions in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are in demand and often pay well. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average wage for all STEM occupations at $85,570, nearly double the average for all occupations, $47,230. Labor forecasts predict more than 200,000 New Jersey jobs in STEM fields must be filled by 2025. The sponsors believe it is particularly important for the state to be proactive about supporting employment in STEM fields because the Trump Administration is proposing to cut several sources of funding for STEM education.

“STEM fields and the people in them are critical to the stability of our economy and our standing in the world,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex/Hunterdon). “Given the current political climate, it is critical that we support individuals in these sectors so we don’t get left behind.”

“In order to compete globally, we need a workforce that is skilled in STEM fields,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “We have to cultivate the people who are leading the way in these sectors so we’re not just consumers, but producers of the next big technological innovation.”

“STEM-related fields are responsible for many of the innovations that have shaped and made our world better,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “It is in our best interest, not just as a state but as a country, to invest in individuals who will help propel our society forward.”

“Unless we are content sitting on the sidelines and depending on others to create new technological breakthroughs, we have to support our entrepreneurs at home,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “By investing in individuals who are in STEM fields we are investing in our economic future.”

The bill (A-614) would dedicate workforce development funds for a New Jersey STEM Entrepreneur Fellowship Program in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The program would be designed by the department in consultation with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the Secretary of Higher Education.

The program would provide no less than 20 fellowships, administered by the department, which focus on supporting entrepreneurs in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The fellowships may be provided to individuals who have proven to the department that they have an idea to create, advance or develop a product in the STEM field which will have a beneficial impact on society and which will result in a self-sustaining business in the future.

Priority would be given to fellowships which are submitted with the support of an incubator supported by the State of New Jersey or any of its public entities.

The bill would require the department to establish an evaluation of the fellowship program five years after enactment of the bill to determine the effectiveness of the program.

This bill would take effect immediately.

The bill was released by the Assembly Labor Committee on June 15.